After losing at home in regulation for the first time in 12 games dating back to November 10, the Hurricanes rebounded with a win to start a new streak with 1 home win. The win was a big 1 to break even for the week at 2-2 and stay within range of the Philadelphia Flyers who still hold the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Recap of the Hurricanes 4-3 overtime win over the Boston Bruins
The win did not so much follow script. Playing a team that played and traveled the night before, the Canes start was ‘meh’ at best and looked more like the New Jersey loss on Tuesday than the more energetic starts common in wins. The Hurricanes mostly survived and hung in there early with help from Cam Ward while trying to get their legs under them until Ward made his own life difficult with a rare mishandle of the puck. He coughed it up and a quick tic-tac-toe passing play found Tim Schaller in front and the net behind Ward quickly thereafter. The Hurricanes did get somewhat better as the first period wore on and seemed to at least build some momentum heading into the second period despite the 1-0 deficit.
Answering my call from the recap of the Blackhawks’ loss and possibly the hollering of Coach Bill Peters’ during the first intermission, the Hurricanes scored a much-needed and recently too rare ugly goal when a Jaccob Slavin shot went into a mess of Sebastian Aho, a Bruins’ defenseman and Bruins’ goalie Zane McIntyre and came out of the mess off of Aho and into the net. The goal stood after a video review despite the mess in the crease. More on Aho and the going to the net thing below…Next the Hurricanes climbed to a 2-1 lead on a Derek Ryan finish on a pass by Jordan Staal on a 2-on-1 rush on a shot that leaked through the rookie netminder. As has been common for a few weeks now, the game also featured a couple grade A scoring chances off the rush shorthanded when Jordan Staal found himself with 2 in alone breakaways on the same shift. He was unable to score on either which set the stage for the usual nail-biter of a third period. The second period was not the ideal model of Canes hockey, and the team was outshot 14-10, but the good guys did control possession and force play into the offensive zone more so than the first period and entering the third period with a 2-1 lead was a good place to be.
Unfortunately, the Hurricanes failed to show up for the third period. The Bruins surged and dominated the early-going such that a Bruins’ goal seemed inevitable. The inability to move the puck out of their own end and the volume of mini to big breakdowns looked much like many of the debacles that have mostly occurred on the road. Sure enough, the Bruins pulled to a 2-2 tie 5:49 into the third period when David Backes parked in front of the net and then finished an uncontested rebound. The play was a short video of Faulk’s struggles at times this season. Faulk was generally in the right place defending Backes but did nothing to try to move him or maintain contact or stick position to limit his motion. Then when the rebound came Faulk never really moved while Backes picked up the puck and fired at will to beat Ward from short range. The lone benefit of the goal was that it seemed ot at least temporarily wake up a Hurricanes’ squad that was slumbering in the third period. Jay McClement continued his best run as a Hurricane in terms of clutch scoring when he found another hold in rookie McIntyre when Viktor Stalberg found him in front of the net. But it then took only 23 seconds before Brad Marchand fired through a screen by Jaccob Slavin and a Bruins’ forward to again tie the game at 3-3. After blowing 2 leads in the third period, the Hurricanes closed out a rough period defensively and limped into overtime.
But just like the last time the Bruins and Canes played overtime hockey at PNC Arena, the good guys came out with a win. Teuvo Teravainen who scored the game-winner last time again figured big, winning a puck on the boards and finding Sebastian Aho between the circles. Aho delayed long enough for traffic to arrive and then sniped a laser into the far side to claim a 4-3 overtime win.
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1) Skating and pace but with hunger in the paint
As noted above, the Hurricanes were outskated and out played out of the starting gate and really only improved sporadically throughout the rest of the game including what could have been a costly energy lapse to start the third period. It was not the Canes worst effort in terms of intensity, but I would give it a B- at best in total.
My big complaint that kept me from falling in love with the top level shot numbers like many after the Blackhawks’ loss was the team’s willingness to settle for just trying to beat the goalie without enough fighting for ice space where goals happen. Though it was intermittent, the Hurricanes did do a better job of going to the crease on Sunday. Most noticeable in this department was the undersized skill line of Aho/Teravainen/Stempniak led by the smallest of the three in 19-year old and 5 foot 11 inch, 172-pound Sebastian Aho. In a great shift in the first period when the Canes were turning things around, Aho was the net front battler for 3 shots including a couple of his own. The goal that stopped the “hot goalie” story cold in its tracks was a shot off of Aho who was battling a much bigger Bruins’ defenseman at the top of the crease. And he had another chance later where he was again parked in front.
Sebastian Aho going having a tremendous game going to the net in Finnish Tuomo Ruutu fashion demonstrates that battling in the dirty areas is about willingness and commitment, not size.
2) Cam Ward in #16 straight
Somewhat like the Chicago game, the game was a bit of a mismatch stats versus on visually. His 3 goals against and slightly over .900 save percentage were nothing special. And he did pretty directly cause the first goal with a puck handling miscue that found the net 3 seconds after it left his stick. But the team in front of him was a sketchy at times through 2 periods and mostly a complete train wreck in the third period. He made a number good saves to help usher the game into overtime and had the answer on the Bruins’ lone grade A chance in overtime before the Hurricanes won. I guess the burning question right now is if it is possible to downgrade the volume of practice and other work enough to just offset playing every game because that is the path that Coach Bill Peters’ is charting right now.
3) Leaders rising up
If it is correct that much of the discussion after the Chicago loss and maybe even after the first period on Sunday had to do with Peters trying to gain more commitment on going to the net, then just maybe Sunday night’s win was a watershed moment in Sebastian Aho’s rise up the leadership chain. Despite being the second lightest player on the roster (only Derek Ryan tips the scales at less at 170 pounds), Aho a ‘can’t miss it’ level of commitment to going to the crease. He netted an all-important ugly goal which is exactly what the Canes could not get in Chicago on Friday to crack Scott Darling. Then toss in a pretty goal in overtime to claim a win.
Aho has played well in general in 2016-17, has shown the skill and smarts that make everyone so excited about him and is producing points at a reasonable rate. But I really think this game goes to a completely different level doing what the coach wanted and the team desperately needed despite it not necessarily fitting his natural skill set and getting results and a deserved first star in a big win in the process.
Mark this game down as a transition point in Aho’s already rapid rise as a young player.
As for the other leaders, I already credited Ward with playing better than simple numbers would indicate. Ideally, Jordan Staal finishes 1 of his 2 shorthanded breakaways to push the lead to 2 goals, but he did notch an assist and generally played well. Skinner had a pretty feed to Rask on the power play early in the game but otherwise I thought was too quiet. A positive is that the quiet version of Skinner is not necessarily a negative as was the case too often early in his career. Not sure what to make of Faulk’s game. I am not sure it was that bad in total, but rating defensemen is harshly about how many mistakes. Faulk’s role in the Backes’ goal that got the Bruins back into the game is enough to drop his rating to ‘meh’ at best.
4) The Boston kid and the third pairing
Noah Hanifin did not match some of his bigger outings against the Bruins, but he was quiet in a good way in 14:13 of ice time. In his return in place of Ryan Murphy, Tennyson was the defenseman who had some chance to step out on Schaller on the goal on Ward’s mishap but was a little slow.
Results win in January-April: With the season nearly half over and the Hurricanes looking up at the playoff spots but still in it, we are at that point where what (win vs. loss) matters more than how (quality of play). The Hurricanes were not great on Sunday, but they got the desired results in an important week finale to salvage a 2-2 mark.
Lee Stempniak: I raved endlessly about Sebastian Aho and his willingness to go to the crease on Sunday. The Aho/Teravainen/Stempniak was both the team’s best and also, despite lack of size, the team’s grittiest. Aho wins the hard hat award for going to the crease, but Lee Stempniak would be a close second and also had a good night in terms of winning pucks on the boards.
McGinn/Staal/Ryan: Had you told me that the best lineup in early January would have Staal flanked by 2 AHL call ups, I would have severely doubted it. Who knows if this is the long-term answer, but right now it is working. Derek Ryan continues to show an ability to score at the NHL level. His 46-point pace (projected over 82 games) is pretty good depth scoring and McGinn continues to be a consistent high-energy complementary player.
The win pushes the Canes to 2-2 in the chunk of 7 games in early January in which I called for a 5-2 mark to push into the playoff chase. That is a little bit of a slow start, but the last 3 games are at home where the team has been incredibly good. It is still possible.
Next up is a Tuesday tilt at home against the NHL-leading Columbus Blue Jackets who have cooled off just a little bit with a couple losses following their 16-game winning streak.